Sunday, December 14, 2014

3 Advent

Gaudete Sunday

December 14, 2014

Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11;1 Thes. 5.16-24

+ In case you haven’t noticed, it’s kind of a special Sunday. James yesterday posted a Facebook meme:

“Everything’s coming up roses!”

And it sure is. Today is Gaudete Sunday.  Or Rose Sunday.

Traditionally, on Gaudete Sunday, we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath.  

I’m impressed by all of you. More often than not, when there’s a shift in our liturgical season, you definitely notice it. You notice the change in the colors. I get lots of comments on the color of my chasuble when I greet you at the door.

And today, of course, it’s a noticeable change. We don’t get to trot out the rose-colored vestments often. The next time we’ll do it is in Lent.

But I love this Sunday. Lighting the pink candle is a sign to us that the shift has happened.  Now there are more candles lit than are unlit on the wreath.  The light has won out and the darkness, we are realizing, is not an eternal darkeness.

Gaudete means “rejoice” and that’s exactly what we should be doing on this Sunday.  We should rejoice in the light that is winning out.  We should rejoice in the fact that darkness has no lasting power over us.

This Sunday sets a tone different than the one we’ve had so-far in Advent.  We find that word—rejoice—ringing out throughout our scriptural readings today.  It is the theme of the day.  It is the emotion that permeates everything we hear in the Liturgy of the Word on this Sunday.

In our reading from the Hebrew Bible, in Isaiah, we hear

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;

In our Epistle, we find even Paul—who seems a bit, shall we say, dour at times— rejoicing. “Rejoice always,” he writes to the church at Thessalonika. This emotion of joy is something we oftentimes take for granted.  Let’s face it, joy doesn’t happen often enough in our lives.  It certainly doesn’t happen enough in my life.  It is a rare occurrence for the most part.  

And maybe it should be.  It is certainly not something we want to take for granted.  When joy comes to us, we want to let it flow through us.  We want it to guide us and overwhelm us.  But we often don’t think about how essential joy is to us.  Joy is essential to all of us as Christians.  It is one of those marks that make us who we are as Christians. Or it should anyway.

Sadly, I don’t think there all that many joyful Christians.  But we all should be joyful Christians.  

Still, as we all know, there are moments.  There are moments when we simply cannot muster joy.  No matter how many parties we might plan or host or go to, no matter how much we try to break the hold the hard, difficult things of life have placed on us, it is hard sometimes to feel joy.  Cultivating joy in the midst of overwhelming sorrow or pain or loneliness or depression can seems overwhelming and impossible.

That’s why joy really is a discipline. When things like sorrow or pain or loneliness or depression descend upon—and they descend upon us all—we need, in those moments, to realize that joy might not be with us in that moment, but joy always returns.  We need to search deep within us for that joy that we have as Christians.  And when we search for it, we can find it.

That joy often comes when we put our pains into perspective.  That joy comes when we recognize that these dark moments that happen in our lives are not eternal.  They will not last forever. That, I think, is where we sometimes fail.  When we are in the midst of those negative emotions in our lives, we often feel as though they will never end.  We often feel as though we will always be lonely, we always be sad, we will always mourn.

As Christians, we can’t allow ourselves to be boxed in by despair.  As Christians, we are forced, again and again, to look at the larger picture.  We are forced to see that joy is always there, just beyond our grasp, awaiting us. Joy is there when we realize that in the midst of our darkness, there is always light just beyond our reach.  And when it comes back into our lives, it truly is wonderful…

It’s not always something one is able to identify in a person.  Joy doesn’t mean walking around smiling all the time.  It doesn’t mean that we have force ourselves to be happy at all times in the face of every bad thing.  If we do that, we become nothing more than a programmed robot or a trained puppy.

True joy come bubbling up from within us.  It is a true grace—it is a gift we are given that we simply don’t ask for.  It comes from a deep place and it permeates our whole being, no matter what else is going on in our lives or in the world around us.  It is a joy that comes from deep within our very essence—from that place of our true selves.

Advent is, essentially, a penitential season.  It is a time for us to recognize that we are slugging through the muck of our lives—a muck we are at least, in part, responsible for.  But Advent is also a time for us to be able to rejoice even in the midst of that muck.  It is a time for us realize that we will not be in that muck for ever.  The muck doesn’t win out.  The joy we carry deep within us wins out. So, as we gather together this morning, and as we leave here this morning, let us remember the joy we feel at seeing this pink candle lit.

We have made it this far.  The tide has shifted.  The light is winning out.  The dawn is about to break upon our long dark night. As we ponder this, as we meditate on this, as we take this with us in our hearts, pay special attention to the emotion this causes within us.  Let us embrace that welling up of joy from deep within.  And let it proclaim on our lips the words we, along the prophet Isaiah, long to say:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;

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